Ken Cheng joked on Twitter recently that he’s interested to see whether a 50 year-old white guy will rate his experiences of racism 3 or 4 stars. Although yours truly is not really any of those things, Cheng has definitely produced a 4 star show which deals masterfully, and gracefully, with the racism he’s experienced over the past year.
After gently mocking us for our cheapskate status as 2-for-1 attendees (no shame here), Cheng starts by discussing the first time he experienced racism as a child – it doesn’t sound like it could be a funny anecdote, but you’d be surprised (and also disgusted by the cruelty of children, but what else is new?). From there, he goes through a chronological list of the racism he’s seen on the internet in 2019, beginning with Liam Neeson’s controversial interview with the Independent.
One of the best things about To All The Racists I’ve Blocked Before is that Cheng doesn’t force himself to stick to the theme too closely – as he wryly notes, a show solely consisting of racist messages he’s received would be miserable to sit through. Instead, he takes a more holistic approach to racism within the UK, including a thought-provoking segment about how racism is not a monolith, and how different races experience different forms of discrimination.
Obviously, Cheng is dealing with some pretty depressing subject matter, so it’s understandable that there aren’t as many laughs towards the end of the show, which is when he chooses to focus more on a recent experience he had with choosing between what’s right for his race and what’s right for him on a personal level. Although he twists the racism he’s received into comedy material, it’s clear that there is (understandably) a lot of real frustration there, both at individuals and society as a whole, which is what makes To All The Racists I’ve Blocked Before so compelling. Cheng makes you laugh, and then he makes you think.